Hume On Is and Ought: Logic, Promises and the Duke of Wellington

In Paul Russell (ed.), Oxford Handbook on David Hume. Oxford University Press (forthcoming)
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Abstract
Hume seems to contend that you can’t get an ought from an is. Searle professed to prove otherwise, deriving a conclusion about obligations from a premise about promises. Since (as Schurz and I have shown) you can’t derive a substantive ought from an is by logic alone, Searle is best construed as claiming that there are analytic bridge principles linking premises about promises to conclusions about obligations. But we can no more derive a moral obligation to pay up from the fact that a promise has been made than we can derive a duty to fight a duel from the fact that a challenge has been issued – just conclusions about what we ought to do according to the rules of the relevant games. Hume suggests bridge principles that would take us from the rules of the games to conclusions about duties, but these principles are false. My argument features an obstreperous earl, an anarchist philosopher and a dueling Prime Minister
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Archival date: 2015-11-21
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